‘New year new you’ is a familiar mantra to most of us after the excesses of the Christmas season – but Mullingar pals Rose Duffy and Caroline O’Connell were never going to be happy with just fitting in some gym time: instead, they took off and climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Rose and Caroline set off on their epic journey on Monday January 14 after months of training and fundraising. They were thrilled to make it to the summit safely.
To mark their achievement, the women’s families threw a party in their honour at The Greville Arms Hotel on Friday January 25 last.
The two undertook the challenge to raise funds for an IRFU charity that supports players who have suffered brain injuries as a result of participation in sport.
Through sponsorship, bag packs and a table quiz, they raised approximately €5,000 between them.
All the more remarkable is the fact that Rose is 62 years of age
“Rose has taken on numerous challenges in recent years that would cause younger people difficulty,” says Rose’s daughter Julie Evans.
“She is truly inspirational women and a fantastic role model for her five daughters and two grandchildren.
“She has completed the Dublin city marathon three times, a number of triathlons and cycles, last year she completed a 50-mile walk and she did a parachute jump.
“Mount Kilimanjaro has been her greatest challenge to date.
“The dedication with which she tackles these things is amazing and even more inspirational is her positive attitude, never doubting her own abilities and never giving up.
“Her two grandchildren recently told me ‘we have the toughest and fittest granny ever’ and I think they are right!”
It was actually Rose who first signed up for the Kilimanjaro climb, reveals Caroline O’Connell: “I was out cycling in a group with Rose last July and Rose said to me that she had signed up for and booked the trip to Kilimanjaro with the IRFU charitable fund that raises money for severely injured rugby players; people who have received spinal injuries or brain injuries.
“And I thought: ‘That sounds like a fun thing to do’ and I signed up two days later. My family thought it was great!”
Rose reveals that climbing Kilimanjaro was on her bucket list: “I had done a parachute jump with Caroline; and then I did a 50-mile challenge; so this was ‘another step up the ladder’ for me.
“I hummed and hawed and then I said: ‘here goes: I’m not waiting until I retire. I’m going to do it now before I get too old!’.
“So, at 62 I decided to do the climb.”
Rose reveals that her family were completely supportive: “They were saying: ‘go on Mammy, go for it, if that’s what you want’.”
The task of climbing the tallest mountain is not to be underestimated: “You do need a good base level of fitness and I suppose both of us would be involved in sports,” says Caroline, adding that she kayaks, runs, cycles, swims, and hillwalks.
While all of these aid in fitness, in preparation for Kilimanjaro, she upped the level of hillwalking.
“In Ireland, obviously, there’s nothing like the altitude that we went to over in Kilimanjaro.
“Kilimanjaro is almost 6,000 metres hight – Carrauntoohil, by comparison, is just over 1,000; so there’s no way you can get the altitude training.
“It’s just not available here.
“The altitude over there is the thing that makes it so difficult. The climb itself is very doable; the altitude affects different people in different ways and there is no way of telling how it will affect you until you are there.”
Caroline and Rose were among a group of 32 and luckily, all 32 summited. The group were from all over Ireland and included four ex-rugby players – Shane Byrne, Stephen Ferris, Mike McCarthy and Marcus Horan; plus two guides and two doctors.
“Everybody, without exception including the four ex-professional rugby players, said it was the toughest challenge they’d ever done in their lives,” remarks Caroline.
So where to now? “The next thing on my bucket list is to climb to Everest base camp – if I can get my good friend Caroline to come with me,” says Rose.
Caroline doesn’t rule it out: “Never say never!” she laughs.
Rose Duffy and Caroline O’Connell at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.